“The Ultimate Lesson of Sandy”

It is two days past Sandy and time for some thoughts.

Some might say that my family and I were lucky, others would say that we were fortunate. There were very strong wind gusts most of Monday afternoon and into Tuesday but we didn’t get much rain and we never lost power. Some member of the family did lose power on Tuesday when tree limbs fell on power lines in their neighborhood but the outage wasn’t long.

I was totally amazed by the predicted track of Sandy, coming up from Florida, following the Gulf Stream past North Carolina and Virginia, then taking that sharp left hand turn into New Jersey and New York. One of the computer models had Sandy going to the Canadian border and then turning right. I swear that I thought it was going to go to Boston, go out to sea, turn left again and come back to New York for a second visit. There have been a couple of hurricanes that have done that in the past, though I don’t think they were this far north.

Seeing the storm track west towards Chicago was interesting and seeing surfers on Lake Michigan even more so. Seeing the snow in the Appalachians made for a very interesting weather story as well.

When I saw that Sandy was turning left early in the model and going to New Jersey I relaxed a little bit. Not a whole lot, mind you; I guess that having lived through Carla in ’62 and Camille in ’69 keeps me from every relaxing when there is a hurricane. I had a sense that Katrina was going to be a major problem but, to be honest, I never had that same feeling with Sandy.

And I had that wrong. Seeing the devastation that was the New Jersey sea shore and knowing the damage and havoc that Sandy left for the lower end of Manhattan, I remember that one should ever take a hurricane or tornado lightly.

I don’t know the entire extent of damage in this area. I know that friends 5 or 10 miles away are without power; I know that many across the river will not have power for a few more days. I have to go to my church tomorrow and check on the refrigerator there to determine what foodstuffs we might have lost in preparation for Saturday’s breakfast at Grannie Annie’s kitchen. I suspect that this Saturday we may have a higher number of guests but this is only an estimate on my part today.

I grieve at the loss of one’s home and property. For some, recovery will be easy and short; for others, it will be a long time before they are able to return to the point in the lives where they were on Sunday afternoon. I grieve at the loss of life. Things can be replaced; lives cannot.

There were some who felt that they knew the power and strength of Sandy better than anyone else so they choose to stay behind when the order for evacuation came. I hope that those who choose to stay learned first hand the power of a hurricane and that should there come another opportunity such as this, they heed the warnings to evacuate and not stay behind.

Sadly, those who choose to ignore the evacuation warning now find themselves without food or water, power or heat, and no way to get those things which are necessary to life. Those groups who bring aid to people in need at times such as this will not go into areas that have been evacuated.

Lessons from last year’s storms (Irene and the Halloween snow storm) were remembered by some this year. But other lessons that have been taught over the past few years still haven’t been learned. People have been talking about the vulnerability of the New York subway systems for years now but nothing has ever really been done. And now, the flaws and vulnerabilities in the system have been shown and massive work must be done. In many areas of the northeast people still haven’t learned about the dangers of power lines mixing with tree limbs. One of these days we will have a better system of power transmission (though I don’t know what we are going to do about power transformers).

People will rebuild and start over; some will start over at whatever point in life they are for they have no other choice. Others will insist that their lifes be rebuilt at the point in life where it was disrupted because they have the wherewithal to do so.

But please remember this. Before Sandy came to visit the northeast, there were people without homes; there were people who were hungry. The number of homeless, the number of hungry, the number of individuals without adequate healthcare have been on the rise for the past few years. There will be a temporary increase in those numbers because of what Sandy did. What I hope today and in the coming days is that the decrease that will come as we rebuild will decrease beyond the temporary increase and we will take this opportunity to really removed homelessness, hunger, and poverty from this society.

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